Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20.1 (2006) 103-111
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Responses to the Armenian Genocide:
America, the Yishuv, Israel
The deportations and the attempted extermination of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were widely written about, discussed, and protested in the United States and Europe during and following the First World War. After the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 attention in the United States and the world community shifted to other matters, and the Armenian Genocide was relegated to the memory hole. For years only survivors, some Armenian intellectuals, and a few historians of the Ottoman Empire raised the topic. Among the latter were some who denied that there ever had been a genocide, or claimed that the Armenians had provoked their own destruction. However, in the last few decades, as the world has recognized that the age of genocide is by no means over, scholarly and human rights interest in the Armenian Genocide has revived. The Armenian Genocide now is rightly understood as the first total domestic genocide of the twentieth century. It was the first time, but not the last, that a revolutionary state, driven by an exclusivist ideology, attempted to destroy one of the constituent communities of its own society.
By now the literature on the Armenian Genocide is quite extensive and growing. Books have been written on the massacres of 1894-1896; the origins of the [End Page 103] genocide of 1915-1923; the role of the great powers, especially Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary; the views and remembrances of the survivors; the fate of the Armenian Republic following the First World War and its incorporation into the Soviet system; the parallels between the Armenian Genocide and the Shoah; and the continuing denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish state and its apologists.
The works reviewed here cover some of the same territory, but they also shift the discussion to new and important topics, especially the role of the bystander, in particular the United States and Israel, or the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine before establishment of the state of Israel. The reviewed work with the widest scope is that by Peter Balakian, Donald M. and Constance H. Rabar Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University. Balakian, a well-known American poet and scholar—his Ph.D. is in American studies—ably summarizes and supplements with primary research much of the literature on the massacres of 1894-1896, the genocide of 1915 and after, and the trials and tribulations of the Armenian Republic following World War I. His pioneering contribution is to highlight the active role played by American public opinion and opinion-shapers in protesting both mass murders. His book concludes on a somber note, however, as it documents how the promise of American protection for the fragile Armenian Republic that rose from the ashes after the First World War was subverted by American isolationism and self-interest, and how current administrations collaborate with the Turkish government in the denial of the Armenian Genocide. The Burning Tigris is an important reflection on Armenian, Ottoman, and American history.
Four of the other authors and editors—Kirakossian, the Severances, and Winter—focus on the role of the United States before, during, and after the genocide and...